Do you toss and turn at night, feeling so tired but just not able to fall asleep? If you struggle with insomnia, you know that it can be not only immensely frustrating, but if it lasts for a long time can leave you feeling irritable, depressed and mentally foggy.
Dr. Nora Aisenberg, a psychologist at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says insomnia can not only cause mood disorders, but it can also affect your long-term health as well. “We certainly know that having insomnia paves the way for mood disorders, as well as worsening cardiac health, risk of hypertension, diabetes and early death,” she says.
Luckily, Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, D.O., at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says almost anyone can learn to fall asleep quickly and easily by developing good sleep habits and sticking to them.
However, Schwartz warns that it may take several weeks for the new changes to take effect. “The hardest parts about this are being tired for a couple of weeks, and not getting mad at yourself. But, if you persist, it will work,” she says. “Think of it this way – you did not develop insomnia overnight, and so it will not be cured overnight. You need to have patience while you are teaching your brain to learn new, healthy habits in relation to sleep.”
Here are some tips for establishing good habits to help you cure insomnia.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
The most important thing you can do to cure insomnia is to set a regular wake up time. “This helps to entrain the circadian system which helps to stabilize our wakefulness and sleep cycles,” Dr. Schwartz explains. Once you have a regular wake-up time, work on setting a regular bedtime as well and stick to it.
- No cell phones or computers in bed
You may think it’s harmless to check your email or watch a few videos on your phone in bed before you turn the lights off, but in fact, these devices cause confusion in our brains about what we’re supposed to be doing.“The bed and bedroom need to be reserved for only one activity: sleep and sleep-related activities,” Dr. Schwartz says. She recommends removing all TVs, desks, laptops, phones, and exercise equipment from the bedroom.
- Give up after 30 minutes
If you find yourself tossing and turning after 20 to 30 minutes, don’t stay in the bed and try to fall asleep; you’ll just get more and more frustrated. Instead, Dr. Aisenberg says its best to get out of bed and read or do something else relaxing until you’re drowsy and try again. And Dr. Schwartz says if it still doesn’t work after another 20 minutes, get out of bed and try it again until you do feel tired.
- Develop a bedtime routine
“Remember when you were a child and your parents told you to go wash up, put on your pajamas, and pick out a story to read? You still need something to signal your brain that you are getting ready to go to sleep,” Dr. Schwartz says.If you like, you can take a warm bath or drink some “sleepytime”-type tea to get yourself in the mood for sleep, or just end your day reading a good book. Whatever your ritual is, stick to it every night to create a routine.
- Take a small amount of melatonin
If you’re looking for a natural, non-habit forming supplement to take to help you fall asleep, you can always try a little melatonin. However, be careful not to take too much, and don’t take it too late.Schwartz suggest that you start out with ½ to 1 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before getting into bed, and she recommends not taking more than 2 to 3 mg a night.
“Normally, melatonin is secreted shortly before bed and leads to a cascade of physiologic processes involved in sleep,” Dr. Schwartz says. “If you take it any other time, as in the middle of the night, it will try to reset your circadian rhythms and upset all the good work you have done.”
- Try therapy or meditation
One of the main things that can cause sleeplessness is a high amount of anxiety. If you’re up at night worried about something that might happen or reliving moments from your life in your head, Dr. Aisenberg suggests you may be able to get some relief by trying meditation to quiet your mind or seeing a therapist to talk through some of your issues and live a more fulfilled life.“Living life well, having a full day of activity filled with purpose, fun and satisfaction is one sure way to correct a sleepless night of replaying regrets, disappointments and angst in your mind,” she says. “You can find peace, tranquility and self-acceptance through psychotherapy, meditation or your own spiritual journey.